A summary of the origin of the brainstorming technique as Alex Osborn described it in 1953 in the famous book “Applied Imagination.”

Alex Faickney Osborn co-founded the advertising agency BBDO in 1919. He introduced the term “brainstorming” in a book named “How to Think Up” in 1942. In 1953 he published “Applied Imagination - principles and procedures of creative thinking”, where he describes more idea generation techniques.

Osborn cites a study saying that a group who used brainstorming produced 44% more worthwhile ideas than people working individually. The original technique had four guidelines:

  1. Criticism is withheld during the session because the purpose is to generate as many different ideas as possible.
  2. Freewheeling is encouraged to create wilder, unusual ideas
  3. The focus is on quantity: the many ideas the better
  4. Combination and improvement are supported so participants can not only contribute with their ideas, but they can suggest improvements to other people’s ideas or they can join more ideas into a bigger, wider one.

Sorting and evaluation of ideas is essential in CPS and should be the subject of another meeting.

Here are the requirements Osborn had for facilitators:

  • Should ask stimulating questions
  • Should have plans for guiding the generation of ideas
  • Should provide warm-up exercises
  • Should teach and reinforce the guidelines - Should do the planning and scheduling of follow-ups

Osborn also recommended to have someone to handle the recording and collecting the ideas during the sessions.

The size of the group should be between 5 and 10 participants. Profile of the participant: should be a self-starter and should have experience with the matter/area related to the brainstorming subject.

Here is how a process might look like:

  1. Preparation of the type of the problem to be approached
  2. Send a one-page background and invitation memo to participants describing the task to be solved with some example of the kind of ideas desired
  3. Individual ideation should be done by each participant on their own in advance before the group session
  4. Group brainstorming session - with the duration between 30 and 45 minutes
  5. Follow-up individual ideation should happen again after the group session

But you can look at this picture from Wikipedia for a more detailed view of the process he describes:

Brainstorming activity by Osborn 1948

One last important thing that I want to share is the original Idea Prompter - a list of questions useful to support idea generation:

  1. Adapt: What else is like this? What other idea does this suggest? Does the past offer parallel? What could I copy? Whom could I emulate?

  2. Modify: New twist? Change meaning, color, motion, sound, odor, form, shape? Other Changes?

  3. Magnify: What to add? More time? Greater frequency? Stronger? Higher? Longer? Thicker? Extra Value? Plus ingredient? Duplicate? Multiply? Exaggerate?

  4. Minify: What to subtract? Smaller? Condensed? Miniature? Lower? Shorter? Lighter, Omit?, Streamline?, Split up? Understate?

  5. Substitute: Who else instead? What else instead? Other ingredients? Other material? Other processes? Other power? Other places? Other approaches? Other tones of voice?

  6. Rearrange: Interchange components? Other patterns? Other layouts? Other sequences? Transpose cause and effect? Change pace? Change Schedule?

  7. Reverse: Transpose positive and negative? How about opposites? Turn it backward? Turn it upside down? Reverse roles? Change shoes? Turntables? Turn other cheeks?

  8. Combine: How about a blend, an alloy, an assortment, an ensemble? Combine units? Combine purposes? Combine appeals? Combine ideas?

There are more recent variations of these questions, worth mentioning is the SCAMPER idea generation method. Interaction Design has a great resource about how to use SCAMPER ideation method.